Prosecutor, activists react to Utica animal abuse case

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 21, 2021

 According to officials, Lux had suffered numerous injuries including a broken leg and a fractured skull when police found him Jan. 4.

According to officials, Lux had suffered numerous injuries including a broken leg and a fractured skull when police found him Jan. 4.

Photo provided by Rose Adkins

UTICA — Utica animal activists and the Macomb County prosecutor have commented on recent developments in an animal abuse case in which a woman named Amber Sunde, 26, from Utica, allegedly threw a small dog named Lux into the Clinton River repeatedly, causing it trauma Jan. 4.

On that day, the Utica Police Department responded to a call reporting that a woman was throwing a dog into the Clinton River multiple times. Utica police found a woman holding a small, 6-month-old wet dog that appeared to have suffered trauma.

Officials said the puppy, Lux, had suffered numerous injuries, including a broken leg and a fractured skull. The puppy had also previously had other injuries, including a broken front leg.

The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office authorized one count of animal torture in the third degree, a four-year felony, against Sunde.

“This is the maximum charge allowed under Michigan law for the inhumane treatment of Lux,” Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido stated in a May press release.

Sunde pleaded guilty to the charge April 1. Her most recent court date was May 12, when Judge James Biernat adjourned Sunde’s sentencing to June 23 so that Sunde could apply to have her case heard in Macomb County Mental Health Court.

According to Lucido, the sentencing guidelines established by the state meant that Sunde was subject to “a very limited amount of incarceration, to be determined by the presiding judge.”

“The pre-trial conviction, secured by the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, required the defendant to undergo comprehensive mental health treatment for a period of two years,” Lucido stated. “The goal of treatment is always to rehabilitate the defendant, minimize the risk of a repeated offense, and also protect the general public. In addition, the defendant’s guilty plea included penalties such as the inability to own a pet and full monetary restitution.

“The defendant’s guilty plea was not intended to, nor did it limit, the ability of a judge to impose incarceration during sentencing. Judge Biernat Jr. acknowledged this fact during the May 12, 2021, hearing and stated that he would likely order some period of incarceration if he retained jurisdiction over the case. The Prosecutor’s Office concurs that it is appropriate for a judge to provide the maximum amount of imprisonment allowed, consistent with Michigan law pertaining to specific crimes and sentencing guidelines,” Lucido stated.

“At the request of the defense, Judge Biernat Jr. postponed sentencing until June to allow for a possible transfer of the case to the Macomb County Mental Health Court, presided over by Judge Carl Marlinga. Under Michigan law, a defendant with a serious, recognized mental illness has the right to seek the possible adjudication of a criminal charge in a Mental Health Court.

“If Judge Marlinga receives jurisdiction over this case, he will have the ability to order compliance with rehabilitative actions and restitution, and also retain the ability to order incarceration,” Lucido stated.

Attempts to reach Sunde’s attorney for comment have not been successful.

The developments in the case upset local animal activists, who protested in Mount Clemens.

Rose Adkins, of Utica, an advocate for animals, said that she has been fighting for animals and realized from the Sterling case — when a dog named Sterling was found stabbed to death in Grant Park in Utica in January 2019 — that she needed to work harder and make her voice heard.

“My voice was not being heard when I tried to just talk about animals, so now I fight with everything I got. Some people don’t like how hard I will fight, but if it saves an animal, then it’s worth it. I will always be the voice for animals. There have been cases where our voices have worked to make changes in animal abuse. … If people in rescues and animal advocates were not out fighting for these animals, there would be many more abused and killed,” she said.

She said Lux just wanted to be loved by Amber Sunde, and Lux will have to live with the effects of the injuries he suffered. Lux now has been adopted by a new owner.

“Just because Amber Sunde claims she has a mental illness doesn’t make it OK to abuse animals. We have been fighting with Lucido’s office, and he said on his Facebook page we do protest to get attention. This is so far from the truth, and we want an apology from him. We go out to bad areas in extreme heat and in the middle of winter trying to help these animals without getting paid to do it. So shame on him for that,” she said.

Activist Kim Jetts, of Utica, said that she believes this case should involve a charge of first- or second-degree animal torture.

“Her defense is saying that she has mental health issues like every other person claims when they are in trouble with the law. Animal abuse needs to stop. She should be punished with jail time for what she did to that sweet dog. Lux will have health issues for the rest of his life. Amber Sunde should have to pay for his therapy and every medical bill for the rest of his life. Animal activists are protesting at the Mount Clemens court building to let Macomb County prosecutors know that we want the maximum punishments for animal abusers — no excuses. We are not protesting to draw attention to ourselves but to our elected officials and to future abusers that we will not stand for animal abuse any longer,” said Jetts.

Lucido in the press release said that some individuals were mischaracterizing the judicial process and attempting to gain publicity.

“Leniency has not been granted to the defendant. Criminals who harm humans, animals or property will always be punished appropriately and fairly, consistent with the specific facts of each case under Michigan law,” Lucido said.

Lucido said he knew animal abuse was a serious problem in southeast Michigan, and as a state senator, he worked to strengthen penalties on those who abuse animals.

Since then, Lucido has become the county prosecutor and said he will continue to focus on the problem. He said the state Legislature needs to strengthen the laws governing animal abuse and the sentencing guidelines.

“Coupled with that, the nation’s current mental health crisis cannot be resolved merely through imprisonment. Government and the private sector need to do more to identify, intervene and treat mental illness as early as possible to prevent a troubled individual from doing harm to one’s self or others, including animals,” Lucido stated.

The next hearing in the case was to take place at 9:30 a.m. June 23 in Biernat’s courtroom.